“A Schoolmarm All My Life”: Personal Narratives from Frontier Utah

A Schoolmarm All My Life
Personal Narratives from Frontier Utah
Joyce Kinkead, editor

on the cover:
There were typically two kinds of teachers in territorial Utah: single, cloistered women of the Presbyterian mission schools and Mormon polygamist wives. Neither had exceptional educational training. Yet as they developed their own fledgling  intellectual skills they proved themselves equal to their circumstances. Perhaps the restrictive environment just inclined them more toward liberal thinking. Maybe the primitive conditions—cedar bark and slate sometimes being substituted for paper—simply added to their determination. Maybe the community’s ambivalence toward education heaped fuel on their passion. Whatever the case, these first-hand narratives demonstrate just how strong-willed, resourceful, and quietly subversive they were.

Excerpts: “One incident impressed my mind always. “Twas of a boy hanging by his feet from one of the joints in the room, his face red and his eyes bulging. This was given as punishment for some unruly act. My wonder afterward was how the teacher, she being a woman, got him up there. The children all were crying for fear he would fall.”—Martha Cragun Cox.

“I am proud and thankful to see [women] beginning to burst the bands of that ironclad Custom which has so long warned her not to … assert … her co-heirship with her brother man … [T]he first antidote draught to cure my misanthropy and disgust of life … [was the assurance that] the good time [is] coming when all men—and women—shall be free and equal.”—Lucinda Lee Dalton

about the editor: Joyce A. Kinkead is associate dean of humanities at Utah State University (Logan), author or Literary Utah: A Bibliographic Guide, and co-author of Collaborative Writing: Essays in Process. Formerly editor of The Writing Center Journal, she has served on the editorial board of the National Council of Teachers of English and as a reviewer for Oxford University Press.

title page:
A Schoolmarm All My Life
Personal Narratives from Frontier Utah
Edited by Joyce Kinkead
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

copyright page:
cover design by Brian Bean
Cover photo by George Edward Anderson, 1894, students
at Price public school on George Washington’s birthday,
courtesy Nelson B. Wadsworth.
A Schoolmarm All My Life was printed on acid-free paper and
was composed, printed and bound in the United States.
(c) 1996 Signature Books, Inc. Signature Books is a
registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
2000  99  98  97  96      6  5  4  3  2  1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A schoolmarm all my life : personal narratives from frontier Utah/
edited by Joyce Kinkead
p.      cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-56085-083-3 (pbk.)
1. Women teachers—Utah—Biography.
2. Women teachers—Utah—History—19th century.
3. Women pioneers—Utah—History—19th century.
I. Kinkead, Joyce A.
LA2315.U8S36    1996
[b]                        96-18067

Preface [see below]
Introduction [see below]
Prologue: A Different Kind of Church [see below]

01 – Louisa Barnes Pratt, 1802-80
02 – Laura Farnsworth Frampton Owen, 1806-81
03 – Martha Spence Heywood, 1811-73
04 – Elizabeth Terry Heward, 1814-78
05 – Lucy Meserve Smith Smith, 1817-92
06 – Elmina Shepard Taylor, 1830-1904
07 – Lucina Mecham Boren, 1841-1925
08 – Lucinda Lee Dalton, 1847-1925
09 – Louisa Lula Greene Richards, 1849-1944
10 – Martha Cragun Cox, 1852-1932
11 – Elizabeth Frances Fellows Critchlow, 1855-1944
12 – Eunice Stewart Harris, 1860-1942
13 – Cynthia Burnham Fisher, 1866-1949
14 – Vilate Elliott, 1868-1946
15 – Amy Brown Lyman, 1872-1959
16 – Alice Louise Reynolds, 1873-1938
17 – Maggie Belle Tolman Porter, 1876-1969
18 – May Pierson McCraney Joyce, 1880-1958
19 – Florence Morgan McDonald, 1880-1966
20 – Mary Hulet Coburn, 1882-1958
21 – Alice Laura Iverson Gardner, 1883-1940
22 – Luella Wareing Cannon, 1888-1977
23 – Matilda  Woodbury Ruesch, 1890-1974
24 – Reva Stevens Daniels Smoot, 1902-59
25 – Bibliography


[p.vii]A Schoolmarm All My Life grew out of my interest in the schoolmarm as western icon, especially in Owen Wister’s work The Virginian, as well as other novels. When I began looking for factual accounts by frontier schoolteachers, I found that the LDS church’s emphasis on keeping personal histories meant that there was a storehouse of primary materials available for study. The result is twenty-four personal narratives, edited to focus on the education of the women. I have also kept entries that illuminate how their personal lives varied from traditional western teachers.

Reports by Mormon women are not often included in general collections of western women’s personal narratives. Thus these “voices” seem important to the collective picture of what we know about western women. Carolyn Heilbrun puts these words in her character’s mouth in one of her recent books: “My point really is that your grandmother was probably, almost certainly, a more interesting person than anyone had thought. … Since women in the past have a dreadful tendency to disappear in a cloud of anonymity and silence, one does feel impelled in some cases, … to recover their voices and stories” (Cross, Players, 136). That is the intent of this book. The voices included here detail their lives as Mormons, as pioneers, and as teachers.

Although my own background is as a professor of English, I found myself in doing this research crossing interdisciplinary boundaries of history, education, history of education, narrative, and women’s studies. The result is hopefully a book that appeals to general readers interested in the resourcefulness of these remarkable women in an independent and interdependent society, whose experiences were akin to, but different from, other western women of the nineteenth century.

I wish to acknowledge the support of the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, which awarded me the Colton Fellowship for the project, and the Vice-President for Research at Utah State University in Logan for similar funding. Librarians and archivists at the LDS Historical De-[p.viii]partment, Brigham Young University, University of Utah, Utah State University, and Utah State Historical Society were enormously helpful. Colleagues at Utah State University—Anne Butler, Carol O’Connor, Clyde Milner, Michael Spooner, Lynn Meeks, and David F. Lancy—made useful comments on the manuscript. Various administrators at Utah State University supported this project: Bartell Jensen, Robert Hoover, Patricia Gardner, Jeffrey Smitten, and Brian L. Pitcher. Susan Boor proved a capable research assistant. Finally, I am indebted to Emma Hall, daughter of Cynthia Burnham Fisher, for sharing her mother’s diary with me.

Permission to quote these personal narratives was generously provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Daughters of Utah Pioneers; Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr.; A. J. Simmonds; Jean Bickmore White; the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; Col. Ralph Gardner; John Harris; J. Mart Madsen; the Merrill Library, Utah State University; May Meservy; and the Utah State Historical Society.

I will always be grateful to my parents, E. B. and Lola Kinkead, who—although not teachers themselves—taught me the value of integrity, tenacity, and education.


[p.ix]I don’t think that [cowboys] is what the West has been about … too many movie sets will give you that idea. The West has been about families, schoolteachers, miners, fur trappers, town builders, all kinds of people coming out here to try and make a living.

In May 1846 as Louisa Pratt—one of 10,000 Latter-day Saints involved in a mass exodus—prepared to leave the comfortable home she had built in Nauvoo, Illinois, to make the trip to Utah on what would become known as the Mormon Trail, she was a woman alone with four children, her husband overseas proselytizing. Depressed, she wondered if she should instead return to the security of her parents’ home in the East. Choosing west over east, she obtained a wagon and provisions for the trek. The local non-Mormons purchased the goods of departing Saints at a fraction of their worth, and Pratt felt particularly low about the loss of the home she had constructed and furnished, a testament to her strength and independence. As she mounted the wagon to leave, neighbor Joseph Heywood came by and asked if she “kept a daybook.” Yes, she did. “Well, write it down, that your posterity after you may know what a smart mother they had” (Pratt, 236). Pratt looked at the temple, built by sacrifice and hard labor, and the Mormon city that she was abandoning. Then she turned forward to the West. Feeling “rich” and “happy,” she noted in her diary that night, “I was another woman compared with her who groped about the house two days ago.”

Pratt epitomizes aspects of the frontier Mormon woman: self-reliant, positive thinking, humanistic, selfless, nurturer of others, dedicated to faith, and diarist. In addition, she taught school. These characteristics are mirrored in the twenty-four personal narratives collected here—women of the nineteenth century who worked at a conventional profession in an unconventional society. While they had much in common with their non-Mormon counterparts in the class-[p.x]room, their participation in a radically different religion set them apart in distinct ways.


In recent years scholars have tried to rectify the stereotypical cowboy-gunslinger image of the West by focusing—as Ivan Doig suggests—on less “romantic” pioneers such as merchants, sheep herders, and schoolteachers. Traditionally, those pioneers and stories receiving attention and placement in the historical and narrative canon have been those focusing on public issues—politics and economics for instance. The powerful private stories of pioneers especially women—have often gone untold, coming to the forefront only in the latter days of the twentieth century as the result of revisionist looks at American history (Jensen and Miller) and literature (Lauter). “The recovery and interpretation of women’s lives have been central concerns of feminist scholarship” for a better understanding of the world (Personal Narratives, 4). Previously, autobiography has been considered a low-status text, unworthy of much serious study. Its promotion to a place of merit is noted in such rifles as The Diary Literature of American Women.

The gaps in what we know about women in the West are beginning to be filled. Women’s voices from that time are being heard as publishers reprint autobiographical journals and letters written by pioneer women: Elinore Stewart’s Letters of a Woman Homesteader, Agnes Morley Cleaveland’s No Life for a Lady, and Mary Ann Hafen’s Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860. Other edited compilations of autobiographical prose show up in Schlissel’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, Stratton’s Pioneer Voices, Moynihan’s So Much to Be Done, and Luchetti and Olwell’s Women of the West. Conversations with Pioneer Women, for example, draws on Lockley’s interviews with Oregon Trail pioneers in the early days of the twentieth century while he was a journalist in the northwest.

A similar outpouring of primary and secondary work on women as teachers has also begun to appear. Notable among these is Hoffman’s Woman’s True Profession, a collection of “Voices from the History of Teaching,” including Catherine Beecher (1800-78), who advocated feminizing the teaching profession to draw on women’s innate numbing talents and to provide women a respectable alternative to factory [p.xi]labor or unhappy marriage. In the same vein, Kaufman analyzes the diaries and letters of teachers from the National Board of Popular Education in Women Teachers on the Frontier, an eloquent view of those eastern women who chose to serve two-year missions to the West. These were women who took up the challenge thrown down by Beecher. (Gentile education in Utah is discussed later.)

These three strands—women as Mormons, as pioneers, and as teachers—come together in the personal narratives collected here. By collecting original material from actual frontier schoolteachers, we can help to put aside the stereotypical image of the “schoolmarm,” embodied in Molly Stark Wood of Owen Wister’s The Virginian: the genteel, refined, noble, educated, pretty young woman from the East. The “Wistern,” contemporary Western writer Ivan Doig, complains, “is all card games and saving schoolmarms; nobody ever milks a cow or plants a spud.” A diverse group of individuals was fictionalized into a few two-dimensional characters. In the diaries collected here, a lot of cows are milked and spuds planted.


By definition, a diary is a private record and by tradition often perceived to be a female literature (Culley, 3). Diaries are where we record our innermost secrets, and some diaries come with lock and key for keeping those secrets secure. Diaries are where we note our triumphs, our failures, our ambitions, our desires. Diaries are the places, then, where we engage in dialogue with ourselves.

The following autobiographical accounts vary; some are diaries, some are reminiscences, and some are narratives based on personal diaries. Eight of the women kept diaries in the date/entry form which we recognize today, recording events daily or weekly (Heywood liked to write on Sundays); we have their archival diaries as evidence. None of these, though, fits the definition of the diary as confessional literature.


The following women kept daily diaries: Pratt, Heywood, Heward (a combination of diary and memory; admonishes children to keep record), Smith (some), Taylor (but the version here was written by her daughter), Richards (for two years), Fisher, Elliott, and [p.xii]Reynolds (partly). The other women recorded their personal narratives from memory: Owen, Boren, Dalton, Cox, Critchlow, Harris, Lyman (hers is so detailed that she must have kept notes), Porter, Joyce, McDonald, Coburn (extremely rambling, disjointed), Gardner, Cannon, Ruesch, and Smoot.

The duration of the diaries varies: Elliott‘s diary covers a school year; Richards‘s diary extends over two years; and Pratt‘s diary ranges over her adult life. How personal the account is depends on whether the woman (or her children) chose to lodge in the archives the private diary or a revised “story” of her life.

The women whose lives appear in diary-form in this collection may have never thought of an audience of readers beyond their own families. Pratt, for instance, addresses her diary—”a portion of my history”—to her daughters, wishing her mother had left a similar record. Anderson calls this “a female line of descent” (67). Not only does Pratt‘s diary/autobiography enumerate the milestones in her life, it serves a dialectic function in continuing to offer advice or lessons in life gifts to her daughters—rice she is dead, or as she writes, “when my tongue and pen are silent.”

On the other hand, some women writers revised their histories with publication in mind; Smith, for example, edited her diary to produce an autobiography of nineteen pages. Heward‘s autobiography, too, is a combination of memory and diary entries, and certainly Lyman‘s detailed In Retrospect (written at the request of the LDS Relief Society) must be based on diary entries.

What is not included in the narratives is also important. Notably absent, for example, is much discussion on classroom practices by the women as teachers; in contrast, their own schooldays receive quite a bit of attention as they note memorable events. Amy Brown Lyman writes about what students wore in 1880, what they read, and how they played.

Anderson speculates that autobiography is “the attempt to write the self” and is “deeply bound up with these questions or questionings of identity” (58). The purpose of keeping a diary for a Mormon woman was not so much to reflect on or examine the events in her life as to record a history and, more importantly, to provide a testimony of faith. These diaries and autobiographies are unusual in their infrequent [p.xiii]questioning of self. Because these women accepted the tenets of Mormonism—which offers an attractive picture of the perfectibility of people on earth and godlike status in the afterlife—the autobiography becomes visible proof of a life religiously lived. Rarely do “unacceptable” thoughts or ideas occur in these texts because rarely do these women err in personal behavior. Most of these women defined themselves within traditional gender roles. One of the scarce examples of questioning occurs in Heywood‘s diary when she ponders whether she truly is lower than a male priesthood holder (a faithful member of literary and dramatic societies, she no doubt saw ample examples of men who could not match her intellect). But rarely do these journals offer a picture of “internal struggle of congruence and coherence” (M. Jensen, 241). The operating motif, instead, is “how my faith saw me through the hard times,” reminiscent of Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Children,” which focuses on the spiritual community (Brodzki and Schenk, 22-23).

This raises the question of just how truthful these accounts of women’s lives are. First, the writer must decide what to record; rarely do the banal events of daily life see the page (although modern researchers ache for such information as weather conditions, crops planted, pedagogy, salaries, curriculum). Instead, writers try to record interesting events or adventures and thus leave a record of the extraordinary. Richards remarks, for instance, “[I] cannot think of anything strange or new.” In spite of the fact that many frontier teachers in Utah were men, only one is listed in the Bitton Guide as a schoolteacher; this suggests that their other roles—church authority, prisoner—receive priority. Not that women’s lives were devoid of adventure. Imagine surviving a runaway wagon broken loose from its team or hiding from Indians in a hole covered by willow branches. And certainly daily life in the youthful territory was anything but conventional with women living through blizzards and minus 30-degree temperatures in no more than a wagon box or a lean-to.

Recording events accurately comes into question because of selective memory. Other details were deliberately edited to reflect evolving church doctrine. The most common example was the post-Manifesto expunging of any mention of plural marriage as the church came to see polygamy as the skeleton in the closet that continued to draw national [p.xiv]attention decades after it was revoked. Cox‘s 1929 portrayal of a proud plural wife is the exception. In Burnham‘s diary, several pages were ripped out; what needed to be expunged from the record will never be clear. The Personal Narratives Group, in analyzing and interpreting women’s lives via their personal narratives, has suggested the ambiguity inherent in such stories:

When talking about their lives, people lie sometimes, forget a lot, exaggerate, become confused, and get things wrong. Yet they are revealing truths. These truths don’t reveal the past “as it actually was,” aspiring to a standard of objectivity. They give us instead the truths of our experiences. … Unlike the reassuring Truth of the scientific ideal, the truths of personal narratives are neither open to proof nor self-evident (261).


Where did these personal narratives come from? A veritable wealth of primary resources is available to the researcher because of the record-keeping thrust of the LDS church. The injunction to church members to keep journals derives from a verse of Mormon scripture regarding a “book of remembrance” kept by Adam. Keeping individual and family histories was consistent with the church’s emphasis on genealogical studies, which, in turn, was crucial in proxy baptism of the dead. “Beyond religious directives, however, the impulse was strong among pioneers, who knew they were doing something unusual and who needed in the deepest, most meaningful sense, to keep a record” (H. Cannon). The wealth of materials held in the archives of the church and state historical collections is in direct contrast to the general “paucity of literary materials in the form of diaries, letters, or autobiographies which might provide insights” that researchers, trying to find first-hand accounts of the frontier, are confronted with (Jones, 48).

Fortunately, an index to some 2,894 first-person accounts of these “irrepressible record-keepers” (Logue, 123) exists in Davis Bitton’s Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies. Of the thousands of entries, I chose to seek out the thirty-one noted in the guide as pertaining to schoolteachers. Of the thirty-one diaries consulted, some were inappropriate for inclusion in this collection because they were privately held (e.g., Eliza Wild Buckwalter), not written in English (e.g., Hilda Runblad—Swedish), or written by a man. Others, such as the accounts [p.xv]by the Tanners—Mary Jane Mount Tanner and Annie Clark Tanner—had already been published as books. Still others contained only the briefest mention of teaching. This left twenty-three narratives that illustrate various events, trends, and issues in the history of Mormon women who were schoolteachers in Utah. (A twenty-fourth diary—Cynthia Burnham Fisher‘s—was obtained from a private collection.)

That only 1 percent of diaries annotated in Bitton’s Guide mentions teaching does not indicate how many women taught during the first century of the Mormon movement. In collecting information from pioneer teachers in the 1920s, Susa Young Gates (Brigham Young’s daughter) noted how pervasive teaching was for women:

From the days of Kirtland and Nauvoo, when Eliza R. Snow taught a select school for girls in 1835, and E. B. Wells, Zina D. Young and others taught babies their [abc’s], to the present time when graduated college Professors and kindergartners teach the young idea [pedagogy] how to shoot without the aid of the old-fashioned blunderbuss of an alphabet, women teachers have been very numerous amongst us (Gates, 18:1).

Given this information one might assume that there would be many more diaries in the archives; however, traditional restraints on diary production come into play. Logue maintains that the advice to keep diaries was directed primarily to male priesthood holders (123); in addition, women often did not have time to be faithful recorders as they labored in the home and outside. Time and opportunity for writing may have occurred only during the later years of women’s lives when they wrote retrospective accounts of their lives as a testimony of faith. Traditionally, diaries that focus on issues and facts have been most highly valued. Frankly, men’s autobiographical accounts—in fact, almost any genre—have traditionally been more esteemed. Because some women’s diaries typically center on “the subjective, personal experiences of the informant (her opinions, feelings, and reflections)” (Watson and Watson-Franke, 169), they may have been thought less worthy of study. Finally, women diarists themselves have not seen their writing as important as that of their male counterparts, particularly in a patriarchy as strong as that established by the Mormons.

The diaries are housed most commonly in one of six places: the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day [p.xvi] Saints (by far the best collection); the Utah State Historical Society; the Family History Library of the LDS church; the Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah; the Marriott Library at the University of Utah; and the Merrill Library at Utah State University in Logan. Others diaries have been published as part of family histories or in such collections as Heart Throbs of the West, a nine-volume history sponsored by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

Early Mormon schoolteachers were uncommon women. They believed in a church that broke away from traditional perceptions of women. Once Mormons pledged allegiance to their new church—a sure symbol of independence they found little conflict in adopting the doctrines of a religion that demanded near-complete obedience. Women who were Utah born and bred did not have to break with traditional society, as their mothers did, but they demonstrated considerable independence in other ways (up to a certain point.) These women writers share selflessness and humanitarianism, the numbing of husbands, children, sister-wives, and community—women who exist in relationship to others. They epitomize what Gilligan calls “an ethic of care, … a tie between relationship and responsibility” (173).

In their roles as teachers, mothers, heads of household, town-builders, they developed as individuals with strong voices. They cannot be deified, though, as the noble, self-sacrificing teacher in the tradition of Owen Wister’s fictional Molly Stark Wood. These women had both good and bad days. Richards often despairs of her class and her own lack of education; Pratt also wearies of school that becomes “like a prison,” where she is “buried within the walls.”

Contemporary feminists might want to find in these nineteenth-century women images of heroines of suffrage, environmentalists, sisters in spirit. This is not the case. Martha Cragun Cox did not “see” the spectacular scenery of southern Utah as she travelled south by stagecoach until it was pointed out by her three male companions. These complicated women cannot be relegated to a two-dimensional stereotype. Some chose to move with the times, obtaining more education (e.g., Reynolds) or to get involved in social movements (e.g., Lyman). In fact, there is a certain passion for learning—often expressed in reminiscences about their own childhood schooling—that rarely ex-[p.xvii]tends into adulthood. Given that most female teachers were relegated to the primary grades, there would be little incentive or opportunity for intellectual inquiry. The church’s emphasis on the utilitarian nature of education compounded that problem. Others elected to move to frontier areas, homesteading remote sites in Idaho, Montana, or Mexico—keeping the pioneer spirit alive.

Space does not permit reprinting the full texts written by these women, and I have edited their accounts with certain themes in mind. First, I highlighted descriptions of the teachers and their classrooms. What seemed interesting then was how their lives outside the schoolhouse influenced and affected them. There is no clear division between their roles as schoolteachers and as pioneers, wives, mothers, sisters, community builders. Most accounts required little editing. An exception, Coburn‘s reminiscence is rambling and repetitious; the version that appears here is much shorter than her 168-page original. The length of the accounts varies, depending on how well each one illustrates a theme: normal school training, frontier education, etc. Finally, I corrected spelling errors and sometimes changed punctuation to make the text smoother and easier to read.

In many ways, these autobiographies fit into the “old genre of female autobiography … which tends to find beauty even in pain and to transform rage into spiritual acceptance” (Heilbrun, 12). They provide a picture—sometimes in pentimento—of what it meant to be female, Mormon, and a teacher. Keeping a diary in Utah in 1847 was not an easy task: paper and ink were scarce (Cox wrote on cedar bark), and just keeping warm and fed was a challenge. Because they took the time to write their lives, these women opened a door to dialogue with contemporary women and made sure that their “pens would never be silent.”

A Different Kind of Church

[p.xix] The “Second Great Awakening,” a period of religious revivalism (1800-50), corresponded closely to the lifespan of Latter-day Saint founder Joseph Smith. In 1823 Smith (then eighteen) saw a vision: an angel named Moroni commanded him to dig up “golden plates” written by Moroni and his father Mormon. These plates became the Book of Mormon (Arrington and Bitton, 8-9). The official scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in addition to the Bible, include the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.

By 1830 Mormonism had become an established movement. Smith, “the Prophet,” ordered his followers to “gather in Zion,” beginning an odyssey that would ultimately lead them to the Kingdom of Deseret—Utah. But, first, the Mormons converged in Kirtland, Ohio (1831), followed by a move to Jackson County in western Missouri, where they lived until a massacre of Mormon families in 1838 at Haun’s Mill prompted them to establish Nauvoo, Illinois, as their official gathering place. There they built a temple. And there they lost their leader when Smith was assassinated in 1844. In fact, all church members were at various times open to slander and slaughter; historians Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton call the LDS church the “most persecuted religious community in early America” (xi). At this point it became clear that no Mormon settlement could safely co-exist with a gentile (non-Mormon) population; the new church president, Brigham Young, opted to lead his people to a land that no one else wanted, where they would “make the desert bloom.”

While the Utah territory had the advantage of being a place where the Saints would not be persecuted, it had several disadvantages as well: soft of varying quality; severe climate; isolation, especially from commercial centers; and hostile Native American tribes. By this time, however, the Mormons just wanted to be left alone to create a utopian [p.xx] society where they could prosper and worship as they pleased. Thus began in 1846 “one of the great migrations of history” that would lead 100,000 converts across the plains over the next forty years (Arrington and Bitton, 108). Before beginning the arduous trip, Young established Winter Quarters at Kanesville (now Council Bluffs, Iowa), which became the jumping off place for the Mormon Trail. There companies of pioneers could be organized.

The success of the early LDS church was due largely to the charisma and pragmatism of its two earliest leaders, Smith and Young. They inspired unparalleled confidence that led church members to accept doctrines atypical for traditional rules of behavior, such as plural marriage. (Some members left the church when the revelation on plural marriage was publicly acknowledged in 1852.) This confidence inspired members to donate their money, possessions, and labor to the church. For women, the Relief Society (organized by the prophet’s wife Emma Hale Smith in 1842) offered a sphere of influence and power, in theory, equal to the male priesthood. Given the absence of men on missions or, later, hiding on the polygamy “underground” and the fact that female converts outnumbered male converts, it might be argued that Mormon women really ran the day-to-day business of settling a frontier, following the guidelines Young set forth.

That Young was not bothered by a strong sisterhood of Mormon women is evident from one of his sermons in 1869:

We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds and raise babies, but they should stand behind the counter, study law or physics, or become good bookkeepers, and be able to do the business of any counting house, and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large. In following these things they but answer the design of their creation.

Mormon women on the frontier did everything from storing community wheat to overseeing ranches and farms to teaching school—often simultaneously. For many, it was a liberating time; in spite of a patriarchal society, women achieved a high degree of independence and autonomy during the early days of the church.

Although the LDS church has always placed a high premium on its history, the dual movements for women’s rights and finding one’s “roots” provided the impetus for a “spectacular rise in the number of [p.xxi] books and articles regarding Mormon women” since the early 1970s (Godfrey and Derr, 417). Published autobiographies include those of Mary Jane Mount Tanner and her daughter-in-law Annie Clark Tanner, both articulate and reflective writers.1

Godfrey and Derr’s collection of early personal narratives, Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, offers a chronological look at the first seventy years of the church from the women’s standpoint. As the title suggests, the church has relied primarily on stories from male constituents. The long-overlooked stories of Mormon women are at last being told in Bushman’s Mormon Sisters, Burgess-Olson’s Sister Saints, Arrington and Madsen’s Sunbonnet Sisters, and Beecher and Anderson’s Sisters in Spirit. The key word here is sisters, which reflects a philosophy and lifestyle for Mormon women (discussion to follow).


When the pioneers looked at the Salt Lake Valley from the mouth of Emigration Canyon in 1847 and Brigham Young said, “This is the place,” they began by establishing a system of wards (congregations or parishes) of 70-100 families each.2 A bishop, appointed for each ward, was charged with seeing that a school was built and operated. Levi Young describes the building process at Willow Creek (later Draper) in his sentimental account: at a town meeting groups of men were assigned various tasks, including getting the foundation rock from the canyon, making adobe, cutting and milling timber, and actually building, while women cooked, mended, and wove rugs and carpets (295).

This scenario implies a more systemized building program than was actually the case. As a result of the hardships of frontier life, three distinct kinds of schools emerged: (1) ward schools (supported by tuition or more rarely taxation), (2) select schools, operated privately and [p.xxii] funded by tuition, and (3) gentile schools, funded by eastern non-LDS religious mission boards.

The first Utah school, taught by Mary Jane Dilworth, opened in October 1847 in a tepee-shaped army tent inside the old town fort (now Pioneer Park) with nine pupils; Dilworth was seventeen.3 (Lyon notes that Dilworth was one of two teachers during that first winter, the other being Moses Thatcher [67]). Hannah Holbrook4 opened school the next winter in a “bullrush wickiup on the banks of the Jordan River”—just south of Salt Lake City where herd boys grazed the stock (Carter, “Women,” 150-51).5 Forty miles north of Salt Lake City at Brown’s Fort (now Ogden), Charilla Abbott (later Browning) opened its first school in 1849:

It was no easy task to teach school owing to the meager circumstances of the people. The house in which she taught was made of logs with dirt floor and roof. The children sat on slab benches with no backs and the books were very limited. For the ABC classes, they gathered scraps of paper and pasted them on paddles (Carter, “Women,” 158).

Conditions improved slowly. In 1855 the sister of Mary Jane Dilworth, Maria Nebeker, taught school in a log cabin with a rough puncheon floor:

The room was uncomfortable and very cold in the winter. Pegs were thrust into the logs around the room, and on these were rough boards for seats. The smaller children sat on blocks, which they brought from home. [p.xxiii] The teacher sat at one end of the room and watched the boys and girls. There were no blackboards or maps; neither did we have a regular system of books and study. We brought to school whatever books our parents could furnish us (Young, 296).

The bishop of the local ward collected school taxes and hired teachers until these tasks were taken over by a local board of school trustees. In 1851 “the territorial legislature ruled that each town must have a public school supported by taxation” (Arrington and Bitton, 211); cash was short, though, and more often than not, families paid with crops and/or labor.

While the rhetoric supporting education was in place, the infrastructure was not. Many communities did not avail themselves of the legislative mandate to tax for school support; instead they relied on tuition dollars. Monnett points out that this reliance on tuition derives from the LDS hierarchy’s own roots in New England where instructional costs were typically born by students’ parents and facility costs were paid by local communities (20). Certainly Brigham Young opposed free schools and supported a “fee type of education.” Responding to criticism of this approach in 1877, he stated: “I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking away property from one man and giving it to another” (Lyon, 68). Not until 1890 would Utah see free public education.

In the early years private schools—opened by entrepreneurial teachers—often filled the void and offered lessons in exchange for tuition ranging from fifty cents to four dollars for a term of ten weeks (Carter, “Pioneer Schools,” 2:136). Lydia Knight’s History mentions that upon arrival in Salt Lake City in 1850, she first set up house and then quickly went around to neighbors to announce the opening of school:

Schools were then very rare, and on the opening day the brave teacher was surprised to see so many pupils present. The school paid so well during the winter, and so satisfied were the people there with the teacher’s labors, that she was solicited to accept the Ward school, which she accordingly did in the Spring (Homespun, 92-93).

Provo in 1855 provides a representative view of two types of schools and how private instruction supplemented “public” instruc-[p.xxiv]tion: 511 children (aged 5 to 20) attended ward schools, while 125 children enrolled in four private schools (Carter, “Pioneer Schools,” 2:118).

A hit-or-miss education was inappropriate for the children of Brigham Young and other high-ranking church authorities. Many of Young’s Fifty-six children as well as those of other leaders received an education more on a par to that of eastern schools in private, family schools.6 Classes were held in Young’s home until a private schoolhouse was built on his estate in 1860 (Hough, 114), and Young hand-picked the teachers for its staff. Susa Young Gates notes that Mildred Randall taught there as well as Karl Maeser, a German convert (whom Young later sent south to Provo to set up Brigham Young Academy), who upon arrival in 1860 was immediately “engaged to teach in [Young’s] private school” (Gates, “Cobb,” 1). Maeser’s niece, Camilla Cobb, studied educational methods in the East, which, combined with her knowledge of Froebel’s kindergarten movement in Germany, enabled her to set up in 1874 one of the first kindergartens in the West—again, in Young’s private school.

Mrs. Cobb introduced her new ideas as rapidly as she might, and soon became one of the most famous primary teachers in the West. For many years, she had a private school, and wherever and whenever she taught she was adored by the children and revered by the parents (Gates, “Teachers,” 7).

Beyond the primary grades, academies—what we would call high schools—opened to teach the higher subjects of descriptive geometry, analytical trigonometry, Newton’s Principia, English grammar, and—for women—drawing and music (Carter, “School Advertisements,” 296-97). The Polysophical (a word created by Lorenzo Snow) Academy—later renamed Snow High School after church president Lorenzo Snow—provided high school education for Salt Lake City residents by 1858. (This academy’s roots lay in the Polysophical Society, a discussion group frequented by both women and men.) As the Mormons expanded beyond the boundaries of Salt Lake City, so Young expanded the academy system. Brigham Young Academy [p.xxv] opened in Provo in 1875; three years later Brigham Young College commenced classes in isolated Cache Valley in Logan. The Provo school was especially popular because of its outstanding teachers, such as Karl Maeser, mentor to many of these diarists, including Eunice Stewart Harris, Amy Brown Lyman, Alice Louise Reynolds, and Vilate Elliott. (Later Reynolds assumed the role of mentor when she became a professor at BYU.)

Deseret University (later the University of Utah, 1892), a coeducational institution, was incorporated in 1850, although it was “little more than a name” until Dr. John R. Park took the helm in 1869. Simultaneous to the organization of the university was a Parents’ School, established for adult education “to qualify teachers for the district or ward schools, … that there may be uniformity in the method of teaching throughout Deseret” (Carter, “Pioneer Schools,” 115).

Although Young’s schools and academies were models, they were also atypical. In general, students in Salt Lake City had access to the best schools and teachers, which achieved its title of “Crossroads of the West” quickly and hardly qualified for frontier status five years after the first Saints moved into the valley. Theaters produced classics such as Hamlet and contemporary plays like Michael Strogoff. At the Polysophical Society, members—including Martha Spence Heywood—met to read their literary compositions, to discuss philosophy, and to listen to music.

As the population of the territory increased, Young sent colonists to other parts of the region to establish towns.7 One hundred miles south of Salt Lake City in Round Valley (now Scipio), Young asked Ann Clark Martin (a plural wife of Jesse B. Martin) to open a school in her home. “School Ma’am Martin”—as three generations of scholars called her each morning took two heavy “bedsteads down and stood them, with the ticks, against the wall” to make room for benches (Carter, “Women,” 114-15). One of her students noted that even though Martin had eight children, the school routine was not appre-[p.xxvi]ciably interrupted.

Even at the turn of the century, communities outside the population corridor were still caught in their frontier days. When Vilate Elliott accepted a teaching position at Bluff, Utah—in the distant southeastern corner of the state—she travelled by train as far as the line went and then switched to horse and buggy. During her year in Bluff, she ached for her bustling hometown, Provo.

During the frontier period, wars created more problems for territorial schools. Martha Cragun Cox‘s schooling was interrupted by conflicts between Mormons and the federal government or Native Americans. In 1857 the Utah War began. Although not much of a war, schools were disrupted as Mormon pioneers headed for the safety of the foothills and mountains or holed up in other hiding places such as the granary where Boren‘s family hid, fearful of a repeat of the Haun’s Mill Massacre. Fifty-five hundred federal troops and hangers-on established residence at Camp Floyd, forty miles south of Salt Lake, where they maintained a peaceful vigil and improved the Mormon economy by purchasing local goods until the Civil War demanded their presence (Arrington and Bitton, 169). From 1865 to 1869 Mormons confronted a more dangerous foe: Black Hawk (see n52, p. 115, and Harris‘s account) and several hundred followers who refused to go to a reservation. Seventy settlers were killed in the territory before Black Hawk negotiated peace (Arrington and Bitton, 156).

The LDS church has always appeared to be a strong supporter of education. Joseph Smith is often cited: “The Glory of God is intelligence,” and “A Man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.” Likewise, Brigham Young preached in 1854 that “if education were neglected, it would ‘recoil with bitterness upon our heads'” (Buchanan, 443). Six years later in an address to the University of Deseret, Young defined education as “the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life” (Buchanan, 456), an articulate statement for a man who recorded only eleven days of formal schooling.

What Young advocated, however, was a certain kind of education, an education of practicality that did not foster inquiry. Because the tenets of the church were so closely tied with the state and thus the schools, the notion of the prophet’s and the church’s perceived infalli-[p.xxvi]bility was then translated to the schoolroom. As members of the ward were not to question the bishop, students were not to question the teacher; instead, students were as empty vases in the classroom, ready to be filled by knowledge, a useful knowledge of how to read, write, do sums, and learn the skills necessary to become financially successful adult members of the community. Cynthia Burnham Fisher chronicles a speech given by a college teacher at Logan that reveals the priority of intellect: “a good character [is] worth more than all the intelligence in the world and all the book learning that can be gained.”

This utilitarian and authoritarian approach to education, in contrast to the liberal education tradition, approved of seeking answers only as far as the boundaries of church doctrine permitted. The study of scriptures as primary text in the classroom reinforced this notion. The study of language both—ancient and modern—integral to any liberal arts approach, was inaugurated early (1835) in the Mormon-church sponsored School of the Prophets8 for the purpose of scriptural study but also proselytizing (Hough, 113). Studying literature had less value, and contemporary fiction was particularly suspect. Young advised one of his sons to “sell your Dickens” (Buchanan, 451). In an 1874 speech reported by the Daily Tribune (admittedly a gentile-controlled newspaper), he allegedly said at a conference: “Educate a lad and he will want to become a Governor, a judge, and treasurer; you can get no useful work out of him. Free schools make lawyers, doctors, devils of our boys, and quite unfit them for any future usefulness” (Dwyer, Gentile, 38).

The first decade in Utah had not been characterized by such rigidity. Intellectual curiosity received a major blow during this religious reform period (1856-57) as the “emotional-irrational side of human nature” was emphasized (Poll, 305). Even the Polysophical Society was criticized as Jedediah Grant called it “a stink in my nostrils.” For a church based on personal spiritual experience and revelation, it is hardly surprising that intellectual experience takes a back seat.

A picture of the early Utah classroom that belies the official rhetoric emerges then: inadequate facilities, few texts, poorly-trained teach-[p.xxvii]ers, lack of curricular standards, inconsistent school calendar. To make matters worse, only about 60 percent of school-age children were able to pay the tuition fees required, and, in fact, only about 50 percent of them actually attended classes, a situation that persisted until 1890 (Poll, 301). O. H. Riggs, Superintendent of Schools (1874-78), noted in 1878 an average attendance of 44.5 percent of the enrollment; four years earlier he had sent word to school districts that they must remain open for at least three months to qualify for territorial funds; many failed to do even this (Lyon, 69-70). Even though Riggs monitored the schools, he had little real authority as that power was retained locally by school boards and parents who paid tuition. That problem would not be resolved until much later when the public school law was enacted in 1890 to provide for free schools for all.9


The region experienced a rocky political route as the long arm of the federal government reached the distant Mormon “kingdom.” The Compromise of 1850 gave Utah territorial status, and the federal government avoided conflict for a time by appointing Young as territorial governor with other officials “evenly divided between Mormons and Gentries” (Arrington and Bitton, 163). Several events converged later to make the federal government take a more antagonistic stance toward the frontier settlement: (1) the doctrine of plural marriage was announced in 1852; (2) tens of thousands of “foreigners” converted and immigrated to the territory; (3) the South had tried to secede from the Union and establish its own government; (4) and other churches, such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians, fanned the fines of outrage over polygamy after the Civil War when they no longer had slavery as an issue to rally around. The Mormon notion of exclusivity—that there is only one true church—as well as the fusing of church and state precipitated the same kind of reaction that the Saints had years earlier [p.xxix] faced in the Midwest. Those gentiles living in Utah publicized the dismal education picture to the East, citing the unorthodox Deseret Alphabet and the reliance on Mormon scriptures as reasons for keeping their children in eastern schools. In 1862 Utah’s petition for statehood was denied, followed by Anti-Bigamy legislation banning polygamy in the territories. The “Mormon Problem” was to receive national attention until the end of the century—and even beyond.

Much of the hostility between the Mormons and the gentiles played out on the battleground of education. Ironically, Young was open initially to other religions even to extending the Tabernacle pulpit in Utah’s first decade of settlement. Likewise, many Mormons took advantage of the windfall of free education proffered by the mission schools. For those parents who wanted their children to attend eastern colleges, St. Mark’s (1867) listed that goal as one of its aims in addition to teacher training for young women (Clark, 273).

By 1875 Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Baptists as well as other religions—were establishing schools in Utah where ministers served as teachers to educate the unfortunate children of the Mormon “cult,” having failed to sway the adults from Mormonism. These missions in Utah had as their goal the same one as Christian missions had to “Native Americans and Mexicans”: to educate and convert. They attacked a weak point in the system—the dismal educational picture. As Lyon notes, they had “conceived a plan to win Mormon youth from the faith of their parents by providing better school buildings, superior physical equipment, a full nine-month school year, and certified and trained teachers” (8). In most cases, this unrivaled education was offered for free. Eastern dollars supplied by those unsympathetic to the theocratic state and its unique plural marriage doctrine funded the religious-educational work. The local Presbyterian newspaper, The Earnest Worker, reported the following in December, 1883:

[T]he Mormon priesthood has held complete sway for about a quarter of a century, ruling the people with a rod of iron, and maintaining its rule by withholding from them the advantages of American education. There were some Mormon schools, but their main object was to educate the people to be still more submissive to the priesthood, instead of training them to be worthy citizens of a free republic.

When this article appeared, there were already 2,000 children en-[p.xxx]rolled in the thirty-three Presbyterian schools in Idaho and Utah, taught by Fifty-seven teachers, who served a double role of teacher and missionary.01 The scheme for education “embraced the whole Mormon territory. … An Academy was to be located in each principal town in each of the great valleys, with primary schools in the surrounding villages, and a college in Salt Lake City”11 (Brite, “Presbyterian,” 1-3). Besides the missionary zeal, a growing gentile population12 provided impetus for starting schools staffed by eastern normal school graduates.13

The Woman’s Board of Home Missions oversaw the operation and staffing of the schools as reported in the minutes of the Synod of Utah:

We have reached a point where further progress makes it imperative that lady teachers and Bible readers should be secured and placed in the work.…

Therefore, The Presbytery of Utah in session at Ogden Feb. 8, 1877 would respectfully overture The General Assembly to authorize The Board of Home Missions to commission Lady Teachers (Brite, “Presbyterian,” 2).

“Lady teachers” from the east, who were thought to be “more successful under trial, more patient, and more resourceful than men teach-[p.xxxi]ers,” answered advertisements for Presbyterian schools.14 In addition, these women had formal teacher training, having attended the female seminaries in the East, something only a few Mormon teachers could say.

The Presbyterian Education Creed stipulated that married women could not work; living accommodations were “deliberately isolated” and often attached to the chapel to keep the teachers away from eligible men (Lyon, 100). Even so Emma M. Coyner,15 a teacher in the first Presbyterian school in Salt Lake City, married the Reverend Josiah Welch (the school’s administrator) two months after the school opened and resigned her place. Her replacement, Miss Jennie Dennison of Indiana, taught for three months before she, too, married (The Earnest Worker, Nov. 1883).

Although gentiles were small in number, they were activists when it came to being anti-Mormon. A Methodist, Sarah Walker Eddy accepted a position in a mission school in Salt Lake City in 1891. Having gained early a reputation as a speaker, she was asked to talk on the occasion of statehood and represent the women of the state “since the Mormons had no woman sufficiently educated to do such a thing”16 (Brite, “Eddy,” 27).

The gentiles’ attitudes toward appropriate social activities affected even leisure time and was further evidence for how Mormons deviated from “normal” values. While LDS-approved activities seem wholesome by today’s standards, they were viewed as scandalously liberal by other churches: “The Presbytery of Utah, meeting in Logan in 1894, condemned ‘the fashionable amusements of dancing, card playing and theatre going—the worldly and carnal amusements of the [p.xxii] Mormons'” (Simmonds, Gentile, 69).

Once it became clear that the goal of these schools was conversion, there was a severe Mormon recoil. The Reverend MacNiece, reporting to the territorial governor, decried the stoning and besmearing of frith upon the “American schools … opposed by the priesthood” (Dwyer, Gentile, 168). Riggs’s successor to the superintendency, John Taylor (who was also the church president), suggested that 90 percent of territorial teachers should belong to the Mormon church (Monnett, 27).17 Brigham Young, Jr., opposed the denominational schools: “[I] would rather throw a child … into Hell than send him to one of these gentile schools” (Lyon, 117).

The attack plan of teacher over preacher as the agent of conversion did not work. Colonel Hammon, organizer of the New West Education Commission, noted in 1894: “The major result of the Utah Christian schools appears to be that we are training Mormons to serve as Sunday School teachers, young folk leaders and bishoprics in the Mormon church. They take our proffered education, but not our religion, and use it to strengthen their own institutions” (Lyon, 251). The example of mission school education spurred Mormons to improve their own schools though and also to establish Mormon academies to which loyalists sent their children; by 1888 each of the thirty-two stakes was asked to establish an academy by the president (Monnett, 98).

With so many Utah non-Mormons writing friends and politicians back East about the horrors of Mormonism, additional legislation was not long in coming. The Edmunds Act of 1882 further defined illegal polygamous activity and drove some churchmen to the underground; however, it took the Tucker Amendment in 1887 to put real teeth in the law: “that the Perpetual Emigrating Company be dissolved, its charter annulled, and its resources escheated and expended by the Secretary of the Interior for the use of the district public schools of Utah” (Arrington and Bitton, 138).

The church’s holdings were seized. Polygamists—both men and women—were put on trial and imprisoned. Others went into hiding or fled to Canada or Mexico. Since almost all church officials practiced [p.xxxiii] plural marriage, the church government as well as the territorial government was put in peril. In effect, Mormons lost political control of their own land as gentiles took over office. While schools formerly corresponded with ward boundaries, lines were redrawn to create “public” school districts. In Salt Lake City and Ogden, school boards became almost totally staffed by gentiles, who, in turn preferred to hire non-Mormon teachers. Teachers practicing plural marriage, such as Martha Cragun Cox, had their certificates revoked.18 A few, like Amy Brown Lyman, were lucky to get an appointment teaching in the Salt Lake City schools while they were under anti-Mormon control. In 1891 of the 101 teachers employed in the district only twelve were Mormon, and even though the total number of teachers increased the following year, the number of Mormon teachers declined (Monnett, 78).

In order to save the church, President Wilford Woodruff, bowing to the overwhelming power of federal government, issued what has become known as the Woodruff Manifesto: “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise” (Arrington and Bitton, 183).

The “Free School Act” (1890) ensured that no tuition would be charged. When the battle over education was finally lost to separation of church and state, Karl Maeser suggested financing church schools, but the price tag was too expensive. As an alternative, the Mormons found a way to continue theological education by attaching seminary classes to the secular schools (see Quinn). Four years later Congress allowed Utah to form a state government, and President Cleveland an-[p.xxxiv]nounced official statehood for the forty-fifth state in 1896.

Much of the historical conflict over education has been masked by a romanticizing of Utah’s early frontier days and a spirit of boosterism. In 1913, only twenty-three years after the establishment of free schools, George Brimhall, president of Brigham Young Academy, wrote in the Improvement Era that “schooling in Utah had never known a ‘backwards era,’ and cosmopolitanism characterized Utah’s educational development from the earliest days” (Buchanan, 436). Historians such as Lyon, Buchanan, and Monnett provide factual studies that contradict the empty rhetoric of such statements.


What was the role of Mormon women in education? Using the diaries collected here as a database, we can make some observations about what it was like to be a student and, later, a teacher in nineteenth-century Mormondom. A Mormon teacher’s education was influenced in part by timing: (1) if the teacher was an adult at the time of migration, she may have received her education and even normal school training in the East or Europe at a female seminary; (2) if the teacher was a student during the years immediately before and after migration (1840-60), her schooling was often meager or nonexistent; and (3) if a teacher grew up in Utah before 1890, education depended on family status, finances, and the quality of the local schools. The pioneers often had to pay more attention to feeding themselves and staving off hostile attacks than to educating. Peterson notes other restraints: “There was a dearth of qualified teachers in the early Utah years; and many who were educated either could not afford to teach or were diverted from it by pioneering, concern with salvation, or the conviction that the great teachers, after all, were life’s experiences and the Holy Ghost” (295).

Louisa Barnes Pratt enrolled at the age of twenty-five (1827) in the Female Academy at Winchester, New Hampshire—forerunner of the normal school—although she had teaching experience. Her diary reveals her to be one of the most sophisticated and educated of the early Mormon teachers. Born twenty-eight years after Pratt, Elmina Shepard Taylor attended normal classes before emigrating to Utah. Other well-educated teachers received their academic training in the

[p.xxxv]Table 1.
Birthplace of Teachers*

birthplace of teachers


[p.xxxvi]Table 2.
Education Level of Teachers

education level of teachers


[p.xxxvii]Table 3.
Level of Teaching

level of teaching


[p.xxxvii]established schools of the United Kingdom and were converts to Mormonism: Martha Spence Heywood from Ireland; Elizabeth Fellows Critchlow from England; and Florence Morgan McDonald from Wales.

Education for later female converts or daughters born to converts was generally bleak. The first children of Deseret19 were far more likely to have sat in a log cabin or under a bullrush bower for their lessons—if they had any at all—than to have a desk in a private school.

[p.xxxviii]Lucina Mecham Boren, born in 1841, did not reach Utah until 1853, but even at age twelve, she attended school sporadically, more often than not hiring out to other homes to earn money for her own family. Like the rest of the young pioneers who walked the 1,200-mile Mormon Trail, she spent more time studying around the wagon train at night than she did during those first rough years of frontier living. Boren, Dalton, Richards, and Cox all admit to paltry schooling, and even Maggie Porter—born in 1876—did not attend school until she was thirteen. Dalton and Richards credit their fathers—teachers—for the schooling they did get. Dalton put her schoolbooks aside when only twelve to become her father’s teaching assistant. She and Martha Cox both comment on their “burning the midnight oil” in order to stay ahead of their own students. This group of teachers got what teacher training was to be had on the Utah frontier—precious little.


How did these women come to stand at the front of the classroom with such meager education of their own? In the case of the outlying settlements, school trustees were sometimes desperate for teachers. In 1852 the legislature began requiring competency exams of teachers; such a test might include grammar and composition, penmanship, accounting, geography, history, hygiene, drawing, and music—as well as personal character (Monnett, 131). Candidates for teaching posts appeared before the board as Mary Jane Mount Tanner describes in her diary:

The time appointed for our trial arrived and with it the [two] applicants. The trustees talked to us about the importance of training the minds of the young and teaching their ideas to “shoot” aright and many things which they, no doubt, considered impressive, then proceeded to investigate our knowledge of the necessary branches of education. … I trembled with excitement but managed to write a tolerably fair hand. She could not write better, but then the writing, they said, was not of so much importance. Reading came next. … We both then read the verse as best we could … She was considered the better reader and that decided the matter (“Autobiography,” 52).

Teacher training became more standardized and normal schools developed in the decade from 1869 to 1879 with teaching certificates [p.xxxix] being awarded (which replaced school board examinations). Most historians divide pre-statehood history into two stages: pre- and post-railroad. Educators mark it with the arrival of Karl Maeser in 1855, who brought with him the German interest and research on effective pedagogy. (See Harris for her feelings about Maeser.) At Brigham Young Academy, which Amy Brown Lyman attended, Maeser taught theology, history of education, theory and practice of teaching, and elocution. This two-year course of studies was supplemented with extracurricular scholarship: literary and musical programs given by the local Polysophical Society. In northern Utah at Brigham Young College May Pierson McCraney Joyce received much the same teacher preparation. In addition to those classes Lyman enrolled in, Joyce also studied drawing and psychology. In the state capital, Florence Morgan McDonald attended normal school at the University of Utah, headed by William M. Stewart, friend and disciple of John Dewey. The university had begun a normal department with attached training school in 1869 under the direction of John R. Park. He drew on the talents of two revered teachers: Ida Cook, who was included on the faculty, and her sister, Mary Cook, who served as principal of the model school (Derr, “Zion,” 76).

In spite of this cadre of excellent teacher trainers, there was still a paucity of qualified teachers, which Superintendent Riggs lamented in his 1875 report (Monnett, 29). In addition, there was a lack of prestige associated with teaching (women were often relegated to the primary grades, and secondary schools rarely existed) and a high turnover rate as Mormons were directed to colonize other areas. County teacher institutes became a major source of training during the 1880s, and “a generally better qualified teacher emerged in the 1880’s” (Monnett, 69).

Despite the growing influence of teacher training, the classroom practices of teachers varied widely. Martha Cragun Cox‘s first teacher hung unruly students upside down from the rafters. Most punishment was less drastic: “Little whipping was done. … The first offense was punishable by having the offender stand in the middle of the floor; the second, to stand on one foot; the third, on one foot with one arm raised; the fourth, on one foot with the raised arm holding a stick. Next came the dunce cap” (Carter, “Pioneer Schools,” 144). [p.xl]Brigham Young let it be known that “application of the rod was frequently counterproductive” (Arrington and Bitton, 191), and his stance is echoed in the journal of Annie Clark Tanner who describes her most outstanding teacher as relying on dancing and playground games to instill a “desire to learn” in contrast to former teachers who “provided themselves with willows, rods, or rulers” or used “dunce caps or books held high above the head as a means of punishment” (32). One of the tests of a good teacher was how well she controlled her young scholars, and at times male teachers were preferred as parents felt they could instill better discipline. Eunice Stewart Harris and her husband were called to Tooele, west of Salt Lake Valley, precisely because of their reputation as strong disciplinarians.


What kind of schools did teachers find once they were certified? Because there was no real central authority over the territory’s schools, data on curriculum, class size, and salary are difficult to find and, in fact, varied widely from one community to the next. Extracting information from historical studies and these diaries, we know that the curriculum of schools centered on the 3 R’s, liberally laced with moral education. A unique feature of education in Zion was the Deseret Alphabet—a phonetic system designed especially for immigrants—one of Brigham Young’s few failures but an example of just how self-sufficient the Mormons aspired to be. The emphasis on Bible and Book of Mormon study was displaced during the period (1880-90) when school boards were taken over by gentiles; after 1890 theology moved to seminaries located on church-owned land bordering the school grounds. Students attended seminary classes during the school hours and received credit toward graduation.20University students enrolled in similar courses at “institutes.”

The duration of the academic year also varied during early settlement, sometimes lasting three months or less. In northern Utah, Lula Richards held classes from April to September, bowing to the harsh [p.xli]winters. Likewise, the experimental community of Orderville in southern Long Valley conducted a summer school. In urban settings, schools convened more frequently during the traditional fall/winter/spring terms, dismissing as necessary for planting or harvesting, a practice continued today among Mormon communities in Idaho potato-farming regions.

Beyond kindergarten, pupils studied reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography, history, and botany using Wilson Readers for the first three grades followed by McGuffey for fourth and fifth. Undeniably, there were few standard materials and texts during the early years, and scriptures were used more often than not for reading material, a source of contention as gentile children enrolled in these schools also. In each address to emigrating companies, Young listed what the pioneers should bring with them to Utah. Among those items were school materials:

It is very desirable that all the Saints should improve every opportunity of securing at least a copy of every valuable treatise on education—every book, map, chart, or diagram that may contain interesting, useful and attractive matter, to gain the attention of children and cause them to love to learn to read and also every historical, mathematical, philosophical, geographical, geological, astronomical, scientific, practical, and all other variety of useful and interesting writings, maps, … (Young, 298).

Mary Jane Dilworth had several copies of the Lindley Murray Readers, Noah Webster’s Spelling-Book, the Blue-Black Speller, and A New and Complete Arithmetic Composed for the Citizens of the United States. In 1851 the territory’s scholarly holdings increased significantly with a $5,000 library, gifted by the U.S. Congress (Young, 345). By 1870 the territorial superintendent of schools was approving textbooks for schools, although actually obtaining any of the following was not certain: Wilson’s Series of Readers and Spellers, Ray’s Arithmetic, Pinnero’s Grammar, Montieth’s Geographies, Anderson’s History, Payson, Dunton & Scribner’s Penmanship, Quachenbo’s Composition of Rhetoric, and Harkness’s Latin (Monnett, 26).

Just as it is impossible to say that one set of textbooks was standard across schools, so too is it impossible to describe a typical day for every school. One scholar remembered school this way. School commenced at 9:00 a.m. breaking an hour for lunch and finishing at 4:00 [p.xlii]p.m. Friday afternoons were especially popular as the students put aside their regular studies for “declamations, spelling matches, organ solos and singing, finishing up with the weekly paper made up entirely from contributions from the scholars and edited by one of them” (Carter, 2:120-21).21


Class size could be as small as a few students or as large as the first grade of sixty students that greeted Florence Morgan in Heber City. For working with these students, she received $40 a month. Although Morgan did not think that salary much, it was better than the $25 a month Vilate Elliott received at the same time in Bluff. Earlier teachers rarely saw cash; instead, they received wheat, eggs, fruit, or labor—Alice Gardner‘s students carried water for her. Even when schools charged tuition, teachers often had to collect it themselves. Operating private schools was frequently more lucrative than teaching in the so-called public schools. The situation in the church academies (1880-92) was just as undependable; many teachers left these schools when the salary was not forthcoming, causing trustees to lower standards and hire less qualified teachers.

Unlike teachers employed by the Presbyterian Mission, Mormon women could not be assured of pay equity with their male counterparts. Women typically earned about haft of what men brought home; a friend of Lou Dalton‘s notes the inequity of salary by “sex” rather than qualifications. One argument used to support this difference was that women taught the primary grades, which required less training; of course, men were also tagged as the “breadwinners” and needed to support a family. There was little opportunity for single women to obtain self-sufficiency. The teachers who mention salary in their narratives include Cox, who received in 1869 $20 a month in produce as an assistant teacher and $75 a month ten years later; Cannon, who received $40 a month teaching in Salt Lake City in 1907; and Lyman, who received $100 a month in 1894 Salt Lake schools.

Even as late as 1885 the average monthly salary in Utah was $49.10 [p.xliii]for men and $29.60 for women; to the south, Arizona offered salaries of $83 and $70 for male and female teachers (Monnett, 30). In general, though, the western states’ salary schedule outpaced their eastern counterparts.21 Attempts by the Utah legislature to correct this problem included an 1896 act “That females employed as teachers in the public schools of this State shall in all cases receive the same compensation as is allowed to male teachers, for like services, when holding the same grade of certificate”(Moffitt, History, 322). Considering that enforcement of this act would have increased school deficits exponentially as women teachers outnumbered men two to one, districts usually chose not to follow the law.23 Moffitt notes that in Millard County in 1907, men earned 85 percent more than the “lady teachers” (Century, 455). Notwithstanding the fact that teaching was deemed a noble profession, many female teachers opted for business positions that paid as much as 50 percent more than teaching (Murphy, 141). Another handicap for women was that men were often given the supervisory or administrative positions that meant higher wages; the Cook sisters—to be discussed—were exceptions.


Nationally, rules for teachers’ duties in the nineteenth century sometimes included instructions on filling and cleaning the lamps, bringing water and coal to school, and making pens. Beyond Utah, even time out of school might be governed, as the following publication of 1872 attests:

Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting pur-[p.xliv]poses, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty (Gulliford, Country School Legacy, 23).

The situation in Utah was perhaps a bit unusual in that school teachers were not held to higher standards than other professions. To be a practicing Mormon meant, for example, that Saints following the church’s “Word of Wisdom” did not (and do not) use tobacco, liquor, coffee, or tea. Because Utahns lived their religion daily and because the population of the state was largely homogeneous, there was little desire or opportunity to move away from the fold. Those who did would be visited by elders and enjoined to change their ways. Even students were not free from scrutiny; Alice Gardner notes that at BYU she was selected to patrol the student residences for “delinquent” classmates.

As for social activities, there were few restrictions in contrast to the Presbyterians and other protestant religious groups, and the diaries abound with references to dances, theatrical productions, and parties. In fact, social outings were so commonplace that the superintendent of schools felt it necessary to put the following announcement in the Deseret News in 1852: “We have no objection to a teacher using a portion of his leisure time … at a party or dance, or other innocent amusement and enjoyment, but we feel to insist that he shall retire at or before 10 o’clock p.m., that he may not impair his abilities for the following day” (Carter, “Pioneer Schools,” 117). Student recreational activities were numerous. As one teacher noted, “Young people will seek out recreation and better it be church-sponsored than risk association with lower forms of leisure.” The church initiated teen organizations in 1875 to keep them off the streets (Bitton, “Zion’s”).


A few women found their way to administrative positions. The August 15, 1877, issue of the Woman’s Exponent proclaimed the following: “A Woman’s Victory—Miss Ida Cook has been elected Superintendent of District Schools for Cache County” (44). Three years earlier her sister, Mary Cook, had been nominated by the People’s Party to run for Salt Lake County superintendent of common schools, [p.xlv]but her name was withdrawn when a perusal of the statutes found that only males could hold office (Derr, “Zion,” 78-9); likewise, when Emma J. McVicker was nominated for the state superintendency in 1895, her alternate, John R. Park, served.24 Both sisters had remarkable careers. Ida became principal of the newly opened Brigham Young College in Logan in 1878, where she stayed for six years. Later, in 1892, she was elected superintendent of Logan city schools at an annual salary of $1,500.25 Even for these women, there were limits. As Peterson notices, “they were extraordinary women, but they were women,” which meant that they did not have the opportunities granted to men such as travel on church education assignments (305).26

Other female administrators included Augusta Winters, principal at Pleasant Grove (Lyman, 16) and Florence Morgan McDonald, who details her administrative duties in her diary. Susa Young Gates, in her manuscript on “Teachers,” lists other women in influential positions: Martha Jane Coray, who served on the original board of trustees for BYA; Jennie Hubbard Lloyd, chosen when she was only twenty-one to act as superintendent of city schools in Cache Valley; and Rebecca Ellen Marie Laittle, a regent of the University of Utah.


For nineteenth-century female teachers, one rule was widespread if not universal: “Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed” (Gulliford, Country School Legacy, 23). Un-[p.xlvi]derwood registers that “teaching became a stage in the life cycle” (516) as women stood at the front of the classroom for a few years before marrying and shifting their roles to wives and mothers.27 Marriage was an area that made Mormon schoolteachers extraordinarily different from their non-Mormon counterparts. Only Elliott and Reynolds (the university teachers in this group) remained single.28 Seventeen of the twenty-two diarists began or continued teaching after marriage.

The ages of the women at their weddings extend from 17 to 39 with most (fourteen) failing in the 17-26 range. The injunction “to multiply and replenish” typically produced large families, and it was the rare woman who had one or two children. Statistics about family size are unavailable for some of the women, but we know that eight of them had four children or less while eight had six to nine children. Motherhood is a less common theme in the personal narratives than one might think, but illness and death are omnipresent. The high infant mortality rate was horrific. Three of Louisa Richards‘s seven children died; Susa Young Gates lost seven of her eleven children as infants.

Teaching was one way a woman could try to support a family. Louisa Pratt taught for some years before she married and continued to do so after marriage as her family depended on her. Owen, Heward, and Boren did not begin teaching until after marriage. Like Pratt, Owen needed to support herself and her children, for she divorced her first husband and left her second husband when his Mormon conversion did not “stick.” Hewardalso married twice; her first husband was abusive. Heward‘s teaching career—as well as

[p.xlvii]Table 4.
Women’s Ages at Time of Marriage

Marriage No. 1 Marriage No. 2

Age Year Age Year
Pratt 29 1831
Owen 18 1824**
31 1837
Heywood+ 39 1851
Heward 19 1833***
30 1844
Smith+ 27 1844
Taylor+ 26 1856
Boren 18 1859
Dalton+ 21 1868
Richards+ 24 1873
Cox+ 17 1869
Critchlow+ 26 1881
Harris+ 22 1882
Burnham+ 19 1885

[Manifesto restricting plural marriage]

Lyman+ 24 1896
Porter 17 1893
Joyce 30 1910***
40 1920
McDonald 20 1900
Coburn 23 1906
Gardner 23 1906
Cannon 23 1911
Ruesch 26 1916
Smoot 18 1920****
28 1930

+Indicates polygamous marriages.
*Reynolds and Elliott remain single.
**Divorces first husband.
***First husband dies.
****Divorces him that same year.

[p.xlviii]Table 5.
Men’s Ages at Time of Marriage

Pratt 29 Harris 28
Frampton 20 Fisher 28
Owen NA Lyman 25
Heywood 39 Porter 25
Kirby NA McCraney 32
Heward NA Joyce 42
Smith 27 McDonald 26
Taylor 26 Coburn 26
Boren 22 Gardner 26
Dalton 40 Cannon 25
Richards 28 Ruesch 25
Cox 55 Daniels 18
Critchlow 46 Smoot 28

[p.xlviii]Boren‘s—began in Utah when their own children needed some “book learning.”

Doctrine and Covenants 132, recorded in 1843, outlined the principles of celestial29 and plural marriage. Not only might Mormon women marry, it was possible that they might be plural wives. Surely no other doctrine in the LDS church caused so much consternation or curiosity as plural marriage.30

Although Arrington and Bitton as well as Goodson and Ivins esti-

[p.xlix]Table 6.
Wife’s Position in Plural Marriage


Heywood X 4
Smith X 6
Taylor X 2
Dalton X 5
Richards X 2
Cox X 4
Critchlow X 2
Harris X 2
Burnham X 2
Lyman X 2

[p.xlix]mate that only 10 percent of Mormons engaged in polygamy, nine of the thirteen diarists who married before the Manifesto of 1890 (66 percent) were plural wives. This percentage suggests that Logue is closer in his approximation of 25-33 percent (47), a figure supported by the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (246-47). Three of them—Harris, Richards, and Taylor—were the first wives of each of their husbands. As such, they were similar in age to their husbands. According to a study reported in Goodson, the typical picture of a polygamous male is one who marries in his mid-twenties a woman near his own age; his second wife some thirteen years later will be in her early twenties while his third wife four year later would also be early twenties; fourth and fifth wives would also be of this age while he has aged to forty-six (94). Over half the women in this anthology who participated in polygamy had only one sister-wife while two (Heywood and Cox) were one among four sister-wives; Dalton was one of four wives and Smith one of six. (For a detailed discussion of polygamy, see Van Wagoner, Embry, and Derr, Cannon, and Beecher).

What did plural marriage mean for these women? For one, it meant they cut themselves off totally from accepted social values and

[p.l]Table 7.
Number of Children Per Marriage

MONOGAMOUS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Pratt X
Owen* X
Heward* X
Boren X
Joyce*** X

[p.li] mores. Mormon women were vilified in the national press.31 As Heilbrun notes, women of an earlier age “could expel themselves from conventional society … by committing a social, usually a sexual, sin” (49). It was not a practice they entered into lightly, many of the first Mormon converts having been reared within the constraints of a New England society.32 These women who accepted—willingly or not—plural marriage did so as a religious principle, a matter of faith. The consequences of plural marriage are complex. For some women, this was yet another example of exploitation by a male priesthood bent on producing many offspring to enhance their social standing in the church and after-life spiritual rewards. Logue’s study of early St. George reveals a pattern of “unrestrained childbearing” in spite of the fact that there was little economic incentive for so many children in an untenable agricultural area and that childbirth was a life-threatening experience for women.33 These southern Utah males had a low death rate while their wives, weakened by childbirth and malnutrition, had an exceedingly high death rate (40 percent of women who reached age twenty would not reach age sixty);34 their children were in jeopardy also as more than 25 percent of them died (107). Plural marriage involved more than mortality rates though; for some, it was simply a matter of feelings. Mary Jane Mount Tanner records in her diary of May 19, 1866: “A [p.lii]change was made in our family by Myron marrying another wife. She was an English girl named Ann Crosby. Of this I will say but little. It is a heart history which pen and ink can never trace” (“Autobiography,” 125).

Plural marriage was not always a heinous arrangement. Kimball Young found over 50 percent of them “successful” (Foster, 277). For women who willingly engaged in plural marriage, there were practical and economic implications that became clear with time. Eunice Harris and her sister-wife were able to share teaching duties, alternating staying at home during pregnancies. For sister-wives who resided in the same house, this arrangement meant that the workload could be divided; Cox records that only one of the four wives had to stay home from a dance and watch over the children. This kind of freeing up from the domestic sphere was advocated by non-Mormon feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her nineteenth-century Women and Economics. She offered a plan in which women lived in communities, say urban apartments, where some women assumed childcare responsibilities, some food preparation, and some work outside the home. Lula Richards, prolific writer, was relieved from household chores by the marriage of her husband to her niece eleven years after their marriage. There is a sense in Richards’s diary that the young woman married into the family to be near her beloved aunt. Such female bonding was common in households where the wives lived in harmony.35

Other plural marriages involved each wife managing a separate residence, and in this situation economics played a large part. Octopus-like, a man could hold several parcels of land by having a wife and children reside on each. Women largely ran the day-to-day life of these businesses and ranches, their husbands absent visiting other wives, serving on missions, or hiding out from authorities. Mary Ann Hafen’s attitude was typical:

[p.liii]I did not want to be a burden on my husband, but tried with my family to be self-supporting. I picked cotton on shares to add to our income, would take my baby to the fields while the other children were at school, for I never took the children out of school if it could possibly be avoided. That cotton picking was very tiresome, back-breaking work but it helped to clothe my children (79).

As Hafen suggests, women had closer relationships with their children than with their spouses. Hafen and other plural wives anticipate the woman as “single, head of household” a century later. What Hafen fails to mention, however, is that not only did the women support their own children, they often sent money to support their missionary husands.

Other women, such as Critchlow, lived the principle secretly, returning to their parents’ homes after the wedding ceremony (where their husbands might make conjugal visits).36 These women continued teaching, donating their salaries to their “new families,” until they became pregnant. Then, they might be sent to a safe community (e.g., Franklin, Idahp; Snowflake, Arizona; Bluff, Utah) to have their children. Cynthia Burnham Fisher relied on support from her own parents to feed and clothe herself and her children as she sent her teaching wages on to her husband and his first wife.

Besides increasing the family coffers, plural marriage was also a means of taking care of the excess women converts (more women converted than men). Marriage gave them respectability and security. The oldest bride among the diarists at age thirty-nine, Heywood treats her marriage to Joseph Heywood with girlish excitement in her diary but cannot conceal her disappointment when he does not respond with equal fervor. Some plural wives were wives in name only as men “adopted” widows. Later, as the male-female ratio evened out, there was sharp competition between single men and polygamous men for wives; men already engaged in plural marriage did not stand aside for their bachelor friends to obtain a first wife as the number of wives an

[p.liv]Table 8.
Effect of Marriage on Teaching

Begins Continues Stops
Teaching Teaching Teaching

Pratt X
Owen X
Heywood X
Heward X
Smith X
Taylor Church work
Boren X
Dalton X
Richards Journalism
Cox X
Critchlow X
Harris X
Burnham Church work
Lyman X
Porter Homesteaded
Joyce X
McDonald X
Coburn X
Gardner X
Cannon Church work
Ruesch X
[p.liv]individual man had represented his religiosity and worthiness.

While some Mormon men might take pleasure in multiple wives, most saw polygamy as a religious obligation. Church pressure to provide bodies for little spirits and the need to populate the Kingdom of Deseret before others moved in were certainly important factors.37 Ad-[p.lv]ditional wives gave males added respect and status38 (a majority of church authorities practiced plural marriage); it served as a loyalty test for the church, and was a testing ground for leadership as men were evaluated on their ability to “manage” a household(s) of several women and dozens of children.

Even in the best of households though, “polygamy was hard to live, both for the man and the woman” (Hafen, 91). After the 1890 Manifesto, it became even harder as some plural wives and their children were simply abandoned (Annie Clark Tanner, for instance), while others were established in their own houses by their ex-husbands (e.g., Critchlow). Other men continued to live with the wives they had married prior to 1890. The Manifesto did not stop some men from taking additional wives or continuing to have children. Cynthia Burnham Fisher’s first child was born four years after the Manifesto, and she went on to have a total of seven even though there were repercussions against Mormons who continued to live the doctrine; one of Cynthia’s children, Emma, born in 1904, remembers being taunted as a “little bastard” by other children in the ward. Joseph Marion Tanner married two more women in the 1900s, according to Mary Jane Mount Tanner’s autobiography (213).


The early church offered a radical departure from Protestantism; for women, this mean an (almost) equal partnership in forging a new church, a new land, a new society. Certainly the adventure inherent in such an undertaking cannot be discounted; Pratt writes in her diary that “I had left home to see the world” (204). For women nationwide, the teaching profession offered opportunity for “self-sufficiency, re-[p.lvi]spectability, advanced study, and travel” (Underwood, 514). Elliott and Reynolds—who chose to remain single—are the only two teachers here who really attain those goals.

That women in early Utah were enfranchised with the vote nearly fifty years before national suffrage is but one example of the autonomy of Mormon women. Suffrage and equal rights for women were included in the Utah State Constitution of 1895; however, Utah women were enfranchised by a Mormon legislature earlier in 1870, a right revoked by Congress in 1887. Wyoming is often cited as the first woman’s right state; although it did pass a bill first, Utah women went to the polls first. Ironically, eastern suffragettes sometimes opposed the Mormon feminists because of the polygamy question; other feminists outside Utah felt they could turn their heads from the plural marriage issue. Two reasons may lie behind this example of early suffrage: 1) Mormon women needed to be included in the total count in order for plural marriage to remain legal in the territory, and 2) suffrage demonstrated that women were not repressed. Utah women became politically savvy as they geared up to fight the national attacks on the doctrine of plural marriage. Foster calls this battle plan a “significant means of increasing their political awareness and involvement” (282). They grouped around the masthead of the Woman’s Exponent: “The Rights of the Women of Zion, The Rights of the Women of All Nations.” Gentile women often did not want the help of their Mormon sisters; instead, they saw themselves rushing to the aid of women exploited by a male priesthood. The reaction from the Mormon women was adamant: “We solemnly avow our belief in the doctrine of the Patriarchal Order of marriage” (Dwyer, Gentile, 196). Distressed by the reaction of these “victims,” the Anti-Polygamy Society campaigned to have the vote taken away from Utah women, calling them “puppets” of their husbands. On the other hand, Susan B. Anthony supported Mormon women precisely because they had the vote (Poll, 351).

Opportunities for intellectual stimulation existed in various clubs, study groups, literary societies, and theater groups, where early women were often treated as equals with their male counterparts. Underwood asserts that land-grant colleges (Morrill Act of 1862) may have provided increased learning chances for western women even more so than for their eastern sisters (517). (See Culmsee’s “Democracy [p.lvii]Enrolls in College.”) On the whole, though, education lagged far behind the East. “Frontier Utah had little respect for the ivory tower intellect, male or female” (Ursenbach, 40).

Women—especially in the territorial capital—got together to talk and function as political activists. Outspoken feminists such as Dalton, Heywood, Pratt, Reynolds, Richards, and Taylor might have gathered to sing the following in support of suffrage:

Freedom’s daughter, rouse from slumber;
See, the curtains are withdrawn,
Which so long thy mind hath shrouded,
Lo! Thy day begins at dawn.
Woman, ’rise! thy penance o’er,
Sit thou in the dust no more;
Seize the scepter, hold the van,
Equal with thy brother, man
(in Arrington and Bitton, 229).

Mormon leaders recognized the important role of women in town-building and encouraged early on their education. When the University of Deseret re-opened in 1869, half of its pupils were female. In reality, however, higher education was not readily available in the territory until much later; those women who needed professional training usually went east to receive it.

Women spoke out on such issues as suffrage and education and felt comfortable in doing so because of the supportive leadership of Brigham Young, whom a Woman’s Exponent called “the most genuine, impartial and practical ‘Women’s rights man’ upon the American continent” (15 Apr. 1873). Was Young really a femininst? Certainly the idea seem shard to swallow; however, in the 1870s Utah women perceived Young to be a feminist. There is a feeling that Young publicly bolstered women to promote a oneness or inassailability of the church while privately holding more prejudiced views. Given their faith and support of the LDS church, including its plural marriage doctrine, women would not have acted as feminists had they not believed they lived in a climate that championed such behavior.

The entire male priesthood did not subscribe to Young’s public statements about the wide spheres women could inhabit. In Manti, [p.lviii] when the school board met in 1851 to discuss the unsatisfactory teaching of Andrew Silver (who was receiving $50 a month), Councillor Chase

recommended two ladies of this place as teachers, saying that they knew as much and were as capable as Brother Silver. … Alderman Cook moved that a committee be appointed to wait upon the two ladies … to ascertain upon what terms they will teach the scholars of this place, and to enquire into their qualifications as teachers, and that we let said Silver go about some other business. … But Alderman Shoemaker was opposed to the employment of women as teachers (Young, 310-11).

The board probably thought they could hire two women at the same price they paid one man—and get better teaching to boot.

Nineteenth-century Mormon women voted, attended universities, worked outside the home, supported large families, controlled a large part of church finances through the Relief Society, advocated social reforms, wrote for the Woman’s Exponent, and, in general, anticipated the roles of women a century down the road—the “super woman” model discussed by Betty Friedan.

When the LDS church “abandoned the millennial theocracy of the early years and capitulated to Federal demands for a secular Utah” (Simmonds, Gentile, ix) in 1890, it abandoned radicalism in favor of conservatism, which meant an emphasis on traditional roles for women. The result was a church which no longer valued feminists. The demise of feminism can be seen in the chronology of the diaries here. Early on, Dalton and others felt free to voice their opinions. Lyman and Reynolds—classmates at BYA in 1890—were the last to speak openly of women’s rights, Lyman doing so in the context of social work. Having worked with her hero, Jane Addams, at Hull House, she set about improving the lives of Utah women by setting up social agencies, supported by the Relief Society. By 1945, as president of the Relief Society, she was being cautioned by the male presidency to “reduce the number of activities taking women from their homes.” Women at that time were advised to focus their responsibilities on home and Relief Society, leading to an exclusivity of church-related activities. This policy of isolationism has led to “considerable collective discomfort” for many Mormon women, according to Derr (Schlissel, Ruiz, and Monk, 76).

[p.lix]In spite of the 1970s national women’s movement, Utah remained relatively unaffected, its women’s “sphere of usefulness” reduced by a church that values the woman as wife and mother. Just as the feminists of nineteenth-century Utah felt unconstrained to voice their opinions because of an openness in the church, so women of the twentieth century have mirrored the conservative church stance in their public statements. The dissonance between the autonomy of Mormon pioneer women and the dependence of contemporary women led Shipps to write: “Yet the contrast [between pioneer women and contemporary women] was there for all to see, and in time it started to bother LDS women whose lives were circumscribed in a community which mainly valued the domestic accomplishments of women and clearly disapproved of work outside the home” (xi). In 1897, at the spring conference of the LDS church, President Ezra Taft Benson laid the problems of society—promiscuity, drug use, delinquency—at the door of women who work outside the home. Many contemporary Mormon women echo the sentiment that the primary functions of woman are wife and mother; in writing about the unmarried Alice Louise Reynolds—one of the most prominent educators in all of Utah history—Reba L. Keele notes in 1978 that Reynolds’s “contributions and gifts were accepted despite the fact that she was not a mother in Israel” and “It is significant that this single, childless woman influenced as many lives (perhaps more) as she would have if she had married and had a large posterity” (285).

Given this attitude, it is no wonder that the personal narratives focus more on home and hearth the farther away they move in time from the frontier. Even if a woman pioneered Utah in the turbulent mid-nineteenth century but did not record her life until the mid-twentieth century, the account reflects later attitudes toward women. Ruesch, for example, writes verses to honor Reynolds, focusing not on how she helped them to grow intellectually but how she trained their hearts, a more womanly virtue.



1. Mary Tanner makes no mention of Annie in her diary, probably because Annie was her son’s second wife (211).

2. In Underwood’s study of Town Building on the Colorado Frontier about “pioneers creating a community where none had previously existed” (xiii), she notes that planners had high expectations and went beyond laying out lots and streets to designating places for government offices, hospitals, parks, and schools (12).

3. A bronze plaque in her honor was erected in 1957 at Dilworth School in Salt Lake City. Another monument was placed in Huntsville, Weber County, where she died in 1877 of child bed fever after the birth of her twelfth child. She was the plural wife of Francis Asbury Hammond (“Financier”). (Lindy Sorenson kindly provided me with a copy of “Hammond Family History.”)

4. Hannah Flint married Joseph Holbrook when his first wife, Nancy (Hannah’s sister), died. She raised their three children—her nieces and nephew—and improved their finances with her salary. Later one of her nieces died, leaving seven children, whom she reared; then her husband’s third wife died, leaving an additional two children. In all, she was a “mother to three families”; she never bore children of her own.

5. In 1880 Angeline Mitchell Brown taught school in Arizona in a house put together with poles, yucca leaves, and mud (Moynihan, Armitage, and Dichamp, 284-85).

6. Heber C. Kimball, noted for having the largest number of plural wives (forty-five), set up his own private school for his children.

7. This did not change the fact that 90 percent of the state’s population resided (and still does) within a 100-mile radius of Salt Lake City. The road from Provo to Cedar City offers a lonely drive as towns are sparse along this 200-mile section of Interstate 15.

8. The School of the Prophets lapsed but was revived in 1867 as a business planning and advisement board, which lasted until 1896.

9. In 1873 Utah relied on only 10 percent of educational support from taxation; at the same time, Montana received 95 percent of its school support from that source (Monnett, 21). The unwillingness of LDS leaders and people to support education kept schools in dire circumstances. Lyon notes that a few communities, such as Spanish Fork, chose to tax themselves for quality schools (70).

10. J. Duncan Brite gathered information on the Presbyterian schools through interviews and church records; as Simmonds notes in “Early Schools Left Few Records,” tracking educational history is “one of the most difficult tasks” because of lack of documents.

11. Westminster College has enrolled students since 1875 while Wasatch Academy, a secondary school, was dedicated in 1892—the only two survivors of the Presbyterian movement. Judge memorial had its roots in the Catholic mission (see Dwyer); for a history of Rowland Hill-St. Mark’s, see Clark.

12. While Utah was long unattractive to most settlers, economic opportunities in mining and the railroad soon provided some incentive. Madsen describes the first entirely gentile school in the railroad town of Corinne, which enrolled thirty students in 1869. And with the find at Sutter’s mill, “the whole gentile world came rushing [through Utah] to the gold mines” (Pratt, 247).

13. Some lasted until around 1908, when modern transportation, consolidation, and improved public schools caused their closing. The free school law of 1890 was the beginning of the end for mission schools.

14. One of the attractions for eastern women to come to Utah was the salary; while many teachers in the East were receiving only a third of the salary a male teacher would earn, the Presbyterian Education Creed included equal salary for men and women “who do equal work.”

15. Emma was the daughter of Professor G. M. Coyner, engaged to open a school in Salt Lake City. On its first day, sixty-three pupils attended; two years later, there were 165 (Lyon, 103).

16. Eddy obviously was unacquainted with Emmeline B. Wells, Lula Richards, Susa Young Gates, or Alice Reynolds—to name a few of the articulate, literate women of the state.

17. In 1880, the year after Taylor made this suggestion, the population of Mormon residents stood at 144,000 while non-Mormons numbered 30,000.

18. After the gentiles had the school boards firmly in hand and the Mormons had resigned themselves to separation of church and state, Utah rules regarding teacher behavior shifted to duplicate those for all western states. In many places women teachers could not teach if married. Some school districts kept this kind of rule on the books for quite a while. In 1922 the Cache County School Board ruled that a married woman would be fired immediately; later, in 1937, they softened to allow fifteen days’ notice (Brite, Fd. 5).

19. Deseret is a Book or Mormon term that means honeybee, which remains the state symbol. While Mormons named the territory the “State of Deseret,” the federal government preferred Utah, derived from the Ute Indian tribe.

20. This practice continued until the late 1970s when two non-Mormon families in the Logan School District challenged the practice of awarding high school credits for seminary classes.

21. “Pioneer Schools and Schoolmasters” is a collection of reminiscences by students in nineteenth-century Utah.

22. Female teachers were also exploited in eastern schools. Melder records 1838 Connecticut salaries of $14.50 for men (monthly) as opposed to $5.75 for women, who were also relegated to teach the lower grades.

23. In 1990, there were 1,040 female teachers and 648 males; by 1930 the numbers had increased to 3,649 and 1,556, respectively (Murphy, 146). According to Rankin’s study of census figures, women dominated teaching throughout the Mountain West, constituting 70 percent of the teaching force in 1870 and 82 percent in 1930 (148). See also Schrems on nineteenth-century teachers sent west by the Board of national Popular Education and Vaugh-Roberson whose studies focus on twentieth-century women teachers in the West.

24. McVicker finished Park’s term when he died three months before its end in 1901. She is not listed, though, in the roll of superintendents of public instruction in Poll (699). See Lubomudrov for a detailed discussion of McVicker’s life and work. She was an advocate of improved school management and normal school training and insisted that children need to learn by doing (260).

25. The statutes regarding county superintendents were changed in 1890 to allow women to run for office; however, as in the case of McVicker, the state office rule was not altered.

26. In 1988 the proposition of Utah women in college was 47 percent, contrasted with a national average of 54 percent. Why Utah ranks last in the nation is discussed in “Some Leaders in Utah Seek to Overcome Traditions That Inhibit the Educational Progress of Women,” by Goldie Blumenstyk in The Chronicle of Higher Education 37 (17 Apr. 1991): A35-36.

27. Some women outside of Utah continued to teach after marriage. In the Mountain West, the percentage increased from 8.6 percent in 1890 to 17 percent in 1930. See Rankin (168) as well as David Peters, The Status of the Married Woman Teacher (New York, 1934). School boards typically forbade married women from teaching, but sometimes there was no alternative but to hire them, given the paucity of qualified teachers, especially in isolated areas. See, for example, Greenwood, We Sagebrush Folks.

28. Whether or not Vilate Elliott married is a matter of speculation. The “Ancestral Family Files” of the LDS church list her as the spouse of Joseph Edmund Smoot (b. 1868) and their wedding day as July 16, 1890; another entry registers his death on April 22 of that same year.

29. Mormon couples married and “sealed” in a temple ceremony begin a relationship that will last for “time and all eternity.”

30. I have elaborated on plural marriage and its permutations since this is an unfamiliar area for contemporary readers and one fraught with misconceptions. Polygamy plays a role in over half of the autobiographical accounts here (ten women were plural wives, while four others were children in polygamous families). To understand the texts of these twelve women, it is necessary to understand polygamy. The diarists are often circumspect in their discussion of plural family life; for example, the number of “aunts” in any one house is an indication of plural wives. Revisionist accounts written after the Manifesto downplay or exclude mention of plural marriage.

31. Cartoonist Thomas Nast, as well as others, depicted Mormon women as cattle, slaves, and baboons. See Bunker and Bitton’s The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834-1914. Mark Twain also did his share by writing about the ugly women of Salt Lake City in Roughing It.

32. Pratt is one of the few women who converted to Mormonism; sixteen of the twenty-three women here are Mormon because their parents converted. The journals of the five converts detail first their conversion experiences. The others chose to follow in their parents’ footsteps and remain in the church (Utah was not without its apostate Mormons—especially after the 1852 announcement on plural marriage).

33. Logue cites several examples of women practically forced into childbearing; one, Mary Nelson, tried twice to kill herself after the particularly difficult birth of her eighth child. A woman, according to Mary Ann Hafen, was supposed to be back at work by the tenth day following childbirth (85-86).

34. In this regard, the narratives here are not representative. These are the accounts of women who survived and lived long lives.

35. Communities offered women a network of support. These diarists often knew each other; Heywood talks, for example, of Smith visiting. Ruesch roomed with the son and daughter-in-law of Mary Ann Hafen while in Provo. For a discussion of female support networks, see Carroll Smith Rosenberg’s “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs: Journal of Women in Society and Culture 1 (Autumn 1975): 1-29.

36. Critchlow was the plural wife of the grandfather of Luella Wareing Cannon.

37. Reproduction without romance is one of the themes in Margaret [p.lv]Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a work that acknowledges in its “Historical Notes” (an afterword) the influence of Mormon plural marriage. According to Logue, “the church attempted nothing less than to impose a public structure on private decisions to marry” (63); Brigham Young suggested at first that young men marry by age eighteen, although he later reduced this to sixteen for males and fourteen for females, an age that would have increased the risk of death by childbirth.

38. West African tribes that practice polygamy notice who can afford to take additional wives (Lancy).